By Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh, USAF
SOUTHWEST ASIA, Sept. 8, 2006 – For the first time in its 52-year history, the Japan Air Self Defense Force began its first United Nations mission over the skies of Iraq Sept. 6. The first flight of the new mission landed safely at Baghdad International Airport before returning to its forward deployed location in Southwest Asia later that day. The mission, transporting U.N. members and cargo for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, adds to Japan's already established role of air transporting coalition troops and cargo.
While the JASDF C-130s will continue the majority of their flights in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the planes now have a dedicated mission solely for personnel and cargo on U.N. flights. "Although the Japan Self Defense Force has experienced this kind of extended period in operations abroad, such as PKO (Peace Keeping Operations) in Cambodia, this is the first time the Air Self Defense Force has taken on a U.N. mission in Iraq ," said Col. Shunji Izutsu, Japanese liaison officer to U.S. Central Command Air Forces.
"Not only does their taking this step mean a new page in Japanese history," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. William Holland, Deputy Combined Forces Air Component commander. "It also re-enforces Japan's dedication to helping secure the future of Iraq and winning the global war on terror."
Izutsu said that Japanese airlift operations in support of the war in Iraq, consisting of nearly one-quarter of Japan's C-130 fleet, have been successful. They have not only transported Self Defense Force troops, but also continue to coordinate with the coalition on missions to safely transport other military and cargo.
"This is a very significant event," Izutsu said. "I believe our partnership has also contributed to reinforcing the U.S.-Japan alliance.
"The first goals of UNAMI were such as giving advice for a general election and drafting the constitution of Iraq," he continued. "With the government of Iraq established, UNAMI is trying to expand their activities to reconstruction, development and humanitarian support."
The colonel said there have been no major problems with the addition of the U.N. mission and Japan is prepared to transport people and pallets as needed. He added that while preparation and ground support for United Nations are new issues, it is a good experience for the JASDF troops.
"Our Japanese coalition and United Nations partners have undertaken a great step for their Air Self Defense Force by performing the UNAMI missions," said Holland. "They were asked by the United Nations to take on this role and, as a testament to their Air Self Defense Force, have transitioned seamlessly."
The Japanese aircrew and support crews have been working in Iraq supporting the coalition with airlift since December 2003, so they have been flying missions and are familiar with transport missions in Iraq. The main difference now, Izutsu said, is the level of coordination for missions.
"Since our current missions here require military-to-military coordination, it is fairly easy to be flexible. We can deal with any unexpected incidents quickly and adequately," he said. "Conversely, the coordination between the United Nations and our staff at the working level can, at times, prove difficult and time-consuming. Once these issues are resolved, our mission supporting UNAMI should become similar to the current mission."
No matter what missions the Japanese C-130s are tasked to fly, they know their contributions play a key part in the global war on terror.
"That Japan supports UNAMI while also participating in the coalition means Japan is putting a lot of effort to contribute to Iraqi reconstruction," Izutsu said
"Stabilizing public security in Iraq by the coalition forces is a crucial condition," he added. "However, in addition to that, various kinds of international cooperation are necessary and the activity of UNAMI is one of them. If the JASDF mission becomes the contact point between United Nations and the coalition and facilitates mutual understanding between them, this should be meaningful for Iraqi reconstruction."
Izutsu said that in order to understand the future of Iraq, people must look back at the history of both Japan and the United States, each of which went through devastating civil conflicts, but emerged as modern, stabilized nations.
"I surely appreciate the coalition soldiers who are working very hard to stabilize Iraqi public security," he said. "Also, I pray for the souls for soldiers and innocent civilians who have been killed during this turmoil."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh is assigned to U.S. Central Command Air Forces-Forward public affairs.)